Coppicing Is a Useful Strategy to Use in Your Permaculture Garden

The management technique can allow you to manage woodland, forest or even smaller garden trees in a more sustainable way.

new sprouts on the stump of a cut Apple tree

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Coppicing is a very useful thing for permaculture gardens. It is a management technique that allows you to manage woodland, forest, or even smaller garden trees in a more sustainable way. I use coppicing techniques on my own property and plan to do so more in the future. I often also recommend coppicing in my designs. 

What Is Coppicing?

Coppicing is an age-old technique that involves harvesting stems from a tree while allowing it to remain in active growth. Many trees and shrubs can be coppiced by cutting them almost to the ground on a cycle–after a certain number of years. This encourages a bushy growth habit. Rather than just having one central trunk, a coppiced tree will usually send up multiple stems from the base, or stool, of the plant.

Though this type of tree management has been practiced in Europe for well over 5,000 years, it is far less well known in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. But no matter where you live, coppicing can be a very useful technique in a permaculture garden. 

Why Coppicing Is a Good Idea

Coppicing takes advantage of the capacity of certain trees and shrubs to regenerate woody biomass from their base. I find this is one more way to maximize yield from a permaculture garden. We can obtain timber, fuel woods, or organic material while still allowing trees to grow and not clear-felling. 

As an alternative to clear-felling, coppicing offers better solutions for our climate crisis and can help people to garden in a more self-sufficient and sustainable way. Since the trees remain alive and in active growth, they can continue to sequester carbon over time. The living trees also continue to provide their many benefits in the ecosystem—to the soil, and for local wildlife. Coppicing can often enrich the biodiversity in a space. 

The coppiced material can have a range of different uses depending on the trees which are managed in this way. Coppicing can give you fence posts, stakes, and long branches to use in garden fencing, for plant supports, and in other projects. It can also give you firewood for a wood burner or rocket mass stove. Coppicing can also be a great way to grow 'tree hay' for goats or other livestock. It can also give you abundant materials for crafting. 

Coppiced materials can also be very useful in adding and maintaining fertility in permaculture systems. It can allow for chopping and dropping or used as mulch to build the soil in a forest garden. Or, for example, used to grow material for no-dig hugelkultur beds elsewhere on your property. 

I recommend coppicing to be useful even on smaller sites, where it can allow for photosynthesis to be maximized and more trees to be grown in smaller spaces. Coppicing certain species can be a way to maximize yield—particularly when growing sub-canopy trees in a forest garden or smaller agroforestry scheme. 

Coppice Trees for Permaculture Gardens

There are many coppice trees that can be very useful within permaculture gardens. Here are a few of my personal top picks:

  • Alder – nitrogen fixing tree, good pioneer, great for soil building and fertility.
  • Ash – good fuelwood, also very useful for a range of crafts. 
  • Birch - good for faggots of fuelwood/ kindling on quick rotation.
  • Black Locust – nitrogen fixer, another good pioneer. Great hardwood for a range of uses. 
  • Dogwoods – (Cornus ssp.) e.g Cornus kousa/ Cornus mas for edible fruit, many with ornamental stems in winter.
  • Elder – fast growing, food producing tree, another good source of biomass for mulch. 
  • Elm ssp. - Durable woods for a range of crafts, possible potential in silvopasture agroforestry. 
  • Hazel – nut tree with wood which is great for wattle fencing, stakes, etc.
  • Lime – coppice strongly, good straight stems, for a range of crafts. Also, edible leaves. 
  • Morus (Mulberry spp.) – edible fruits, leaves, wood for fencing, animal fodder, etc.
  • Oak – great for much longer-term rotations, with high quality wood for fuel or crafts. 
  • Willow – many willow species are great for weaving, basketry, and other crafts, and can be used in many ways in your home and garden. 

It is important to bear your site and its conditions in mind. But these are just some of the useful trees to consider for coppicing schemes in a permaculture garden.